dealing with deer – part one

Coyote urine. Irish Spring soap. Pantyhose filled with human hair. Raw eggs. If you garden in Westchester, you’ve probably considered at least one of these “tried and true” approaches in an effort to protect your plants from the onslaught of deer.As a garden designer in this area the single most frustrating hurdle I face every year is, without a doubt, deer. “Deer-proof” plants? Books and the internet are full of lists. Unfortunately, deer don’t read the lists, and as the deer population has increased, they have adapted their tastes to include a wider variety of plants. Adding insult to injury, what they eat in Hastings they don’t touch in Sleepy Hollow, and what they ignored last season is their new favorite this year.

What to do? The following outlines a low-key, realistic approach to dissuading deer, while minimizing the cost, labor and “ick” factor of other methods.

Re-think the concept of “impact” – When I started my business, I couldn’t wait to design gardens overflowing with all the plants that I had seen in my books and classes. But after a few seasons of seeing my gardens decimated by hungry herds, I now tell clients – if you have deer, there is a limit to the variety of plants that you can have in your garden. This doesn’t mean that your garden can’t have that “wow” factor – it just means re-thinking how you get there. Try using massings of plants – 5-7 of each – so that they have real impact when in bloom. Incorporate plants with striking or unusual foliage. And if you find a plant that works, install several varieties. Peonies, foxgloves and spireas, for example, are available in a wide range of sizes, bloom times and colors, which extends their season of interest.

Use deer-repellants – When incorporated with other tactics, commercial deer-repellants can be very effective. I am a big fan of Deer Stopper – it is completely organic, has a pleasant, minty scent and works well when applied immediately after planting (or as new growth emerges) and monthly thereafter. I wouldn’t use it on tulips and expect miracles, but on my “deer-resistant” plants I’ve had consistently good results.

Be a sleuth – The first thing I do when designing a landscape is to make note of plants that are up and thriving in the surrounding gardens. This is typically a good indicator of the preferences of the deer in that particular neighborhood. Deer are habitual creatures and tend to traverse the same paths. If they are leaving a plant alone in your neighbor’s yard, chances are it will be safe in yours too (of course, be prepared that next season may be a different story…..).

Next month I’ll share my own list of plants that deer consistently overlook, along with other tips to prepare you and your garden for next season.


“tending your garden” is reprinted with the permission of River Journal Inc., 914.631.7021
© 2006 sheri silver – fiorigarden.com